Life's Little Mysteries

What Is an Herbivore?

herbivores, plant eaters
Herbivores eat only plants, but can be very picky. (Image credit: stock.xchng)

Herbivorous animals are vegetarians. They only eat plants.

Herbivores can be very picky eaters. Scientists group these creatures by the parts of plants the herbivore eats.

Frugivores only eat fruit. Folivorous birds feed on leaves. Nectivorous bats suck on nectar. Granivorous insects munch on seeds whereas polynivorous ones prefer pollen.

When the weather changes, however, herbivores often have to alter their diets to feed on whatever plant food is in season.

The teeth of herbivores have adapted to chew the tough fibers of plants. Their big molars grind up seeds and twigs. Special stomach chambers in some herbivores, such as cows and moose, are called rumen. The rumen contains microorganisms that break down the cellulose in grass so that the animal can collect as much energy as possible from the food.

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Corey Binns lives in Northern California and writes about science, health, parenting, and social change. In addition to writing for Live Science, she's contributed to publications including Popular Science,, Scholastic, and the Stanford Social Innovation Review as well as others. She's also produced stories for NPR’s Science Friday and Sundance Channel. She studied biology at Brown University and earned a Master's degree in science journalism from NYU. The Association of Health Care Journalists named her a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Health Journalism Fellow in 2009. She has chased tornadoes and lived to tell the tale.